Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

In the UK, Online Petitions Are Gaining Steam

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, August 16 2011

A new online petition initiative in the United Kingdom is so popular that its website crashed on its first day in operation — so popular, in fact, that it has some people worried that too much democracy might be a bad thing.

Launched earlier this month, the UK's online e-petitions initiative — apparently a rehash of an earlier petitoning initiative from a previous government — allows any British citizen to petition the government for an item to be debated in the House of Commons. If a petition passes muster by government standards and collects over 100,000 signatures within a year, then it becomes due for debate in Parliament during time set aside for "backbencher debates" — discourse between lawmakers who don't have a government portfolio or a prominent spot in the opposition, set up through a new committee in the Commons.

But debate time is scarce for people outside of the government, and some commentators argue that the petition threshold is too low. Here's the BBC's Ross Hawkins:

Earlier this year the Sun won 100,000 supporters for its own petition to freeze fuel tax.

In 2007 almost 1.8 million registered their objection to road-pricing on the now defunct Downing Street petitions site. A demand to make the TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister got almost half way to that target.

One of the campaigners for a death penalty debate - Paul Staines, who blogs as Guido Fawkes - is an unlikely advocate for a higher bar.

He said: "I'm very confident that I'll get 100,000 signatures in a matter of weeks if not months and I think that they should perhaps make it a little bit tougher if they are going to take this seriously."

Being a fan of Clarkson's show, Top Gear, I've got to admit the idea of having him drive a supercar-du-jour to 10 Downing Street every day has a certain appeal — but as the leader of the House of Commons says the 100,000-signature mark for petitions can be raised or lowered if it seems to be too high or low, and the petitions merely create a spark for a debate rather than compel the government to act, it won't be a matter of serious concern.

The most popular petition on the site now asks Parliament to consider revoking social benefits for people convicted of participating in the recent riots that shook England. It has already accrued over 200,000 signatures, and the page has been updated to reflect a response from the government.

News Briefs

RSS Feed wednesday >

In Mexico, A Wiki Makes Corporate Secrets Public

Earlier this year the Latin American NGO Poder launched Quién Es Quién Wiki (Who's Who Wiki), a corporate transparency project more than two years in the making. The hope is that the platform will be the foundation for a citizen-led movement demanding transparency and accountability from businesses in Mexico. Data from Quién Es Quién Wiki is already helping community activists mobilize against foreign companies preparing to mine the mountains of the Sierra Norte de Puebla.

GO

thursday >

NY Study Shows How Freedom of Information Can Inform Open Data

On New York State's open data portal, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has around 40 data resources of varying sizes, such as maps of lakes and ponds and rivers, bird conservation areas and hiking trails. But those datasets do not include several data resources that are most sought after by many New York businesses, a new study from advocacy group Reinvent Albany has found. Welcome to a little-discussed corner of so-called "open government"--while agencies often pay lip service to the cause, the data they actually release is sometimes nowhere close to what is most wanted. GO

Responding to Ferguson, Activists Organize #NMOS14 Vigils Across America In Just 4 Days

This evening peaceful crowds will gather at more than 90 locations around the country to honor the victims of police brutality, most recently the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Saturday. A moment of silence will begin at 20 minutes past 7 p.m. (EST). The vigils are being organized almost entirely online by the writer and activist Feminista Jones (@FeministaJones), with help from others from around the country who have volunteered to coordinate a vigil in their communities. Organizing such a large event in only a few days is a challenge, but in addition to ironing out basic logistics, the National Moment of Silence (#NMOS14) organizers have had to deal with co-optation, misrepresentation, and Google Docs and Facebook pages that are, apparently, buckling under traffic.

GO

More